Expressing sympathy, especially in hard times, doesn’t come easily to everyone. That absolutely doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you for not really knowing how to express sympathy in the right way when someone else is going through a hard time. There’s plenty of reasons that it might be difficult to know how to express sympathy.

how to express sympathy

Even the most empathetic among us can struggle at times to know what to say or do when another person is suffering or struggling. Although we all know that heartbreak, sadness, loss and change is inevitable, sometimes it can still be such a shock that it leaves us a little speechless – even if it HAS happened to someone else.

So why might we struggle to know how to express sympathy (not through lack of wanting) to other people: 

  • What they’re going through might be triggering to us: If we’ve been through something similar to the person who is currently struggling, then hearing and seeing someone else suffer in the same way can sometimes bring back a whole host of emotions for us. Therefore, making it difficult for us to express sympathy because we’re trying to distance ourselves from the hurt.
  • We have no experience with what they’re struggling with: If we can’t relate to how they feel, it can be hard to know how to empress sympathy in an appropriate way. We might not want to overstep the mark and do something that’s going to make them feel worse, whilst simultaneously, not doing enough.
  • It genuinely might be so tragic that we don’t know what to do: Some things really are just so bad that nothing is going you say or do is going to make it better. These situations are really difficult because we obviously want (and need) to do something to show we care but again, it can be hard to know what’s appropriate.

Those are just three very surface level reasons as to why we might not know how to express sympathy with someone else who is going through something. But whether it’s losing a pet, a cancer diagnosis, a job redundancy or something else, there’s always something you can do for someone else to show them that you care.

So let’s look at 8 different ways of how to express sympathy for someone you care about, who’s going through a hard time:

how to express sympathy

Send a sympathy card

A card is one of the simplest things you can do to express sympathy to someone else. It might only be a piece of card, but sympathy cards really can go a long way in showing that someone is thinking of you during a hard time. It can be up to you how much or how little to write it in, too.

Or write a letter or a heartfelt note

If you like writing but want to send something a bit more personal, then perhaps a letter is a more appropriate way for you to express sympathy to someone you love. A letter will allow you to go into more detail, if you wish to do so. And it’ll show you look time, care and effort into getting your words down to show them you’re there for them.

Send a personal care package

There are so many different types of care packages available and of course, you can also make one yourself. A personal care package is a really sweet idea for expressing sympathy, especially to a close friend who’s care package you can curate with the knowledge of what they like inside it.

Send flowers

Flowers are a timeless and classic act of love and sympathy for anyone and are pretty appropriate for any circumstance, so sending flowers is quite a safe bet when you don’t know what else to do. You might want to find out the meaning of flowers as well, so you know which type to send.

Offer a listening ear

Sometimes all people need is someone to talk to. When you’re going through something sad, it can feel like an incredibly lonely and isolating time. Whilst you know that other people out there are going through the same thing, it can feel like you’re the only person experiencing these feelings. Offer a cuppa and a chat and you might be doing them the world of good.

Bake something sweet

Depending on the situation, a sweet treat might be the perfect answer to how to express sympathy. If your friend is going through a break-up, this is the perfect time to bake them something nice. Or perhaps if they’ve just lost their job or had an accident.

Offer to help with errands

A really lovely way to express sympathy to someone who perhaps is going through too much to stick with their daily errands is by offering to help out. If they’ve just experienced a bereavement, are experiencing an illness or perhaps have had an accident which has rendered them immobile for some time.

Plan a day out

For someone who’s very close to you, planning something fun to do together can be a great way to express sympathy as it’ll help distract them for a little while. You might want to plan an afternoon tea, a trip to the zoo or a day out shopping to help take their mind off of whatever is going on.

how to express sympathy

When expressing sympathy, it’s important to consider the person on the other end of it and what they’re going through.

We all want to show those we love that we care and that we’re there for them but not everything is appropriate in every situation. If you’re really close to them, you’ll know what they’ll appreciate. If you’re not so close, then it can be harder to decipher.

But there’s always something you can do to show them that you can and that you’re here for them and thinking about them in their time of grief, sadness or need.

How do you like to express sympathy to people who are going through a tough time?


  1. When our grandad passed recently, a friend of ours baked us a cake. I know it sounds silly, but somehow it was such a little ray of sunshine in an otherwise very gloomy time. She had gone through the same and her idea was definitely the most appreciated, because there had to be no words involved. Thank you for sharing the other points, I always struggle to support someone when it comes to expressing sympathy as I don’t want to come through as pushy!

  2. This actually came at a really good time. A woman I know has really serious life threatening and deteriorating illness and problems. I have know her for years, but I have no clue what to do or say. Thank you for your really helpful suggestions Jenny.

    Lauren x

  3. I love this post Jenny, thank you for sharing these respectful and helpful ideas. I always want to help those who are struggling- but I’m not always the best at expressing it. I think a practical thing, such as running errands, is a lovely idea x

  4. Yes! Offering to listen is sometimes one of the best things to do for someone, especially if they feel that the one listening can’t relate. This is such a great list for being sympathetic in such a kind and healing manner.

  5. These are great ideas. I love the idea of a care package, flowers or baked goodies. Sometimes you don’t need words at all, it’s just enough to let them know you are there, hold their hand or ask them if they want a hug. You can never go wrong when you offer kindness 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: